By Julie Landers, Staff Writer
Over the course of my Arts degree, I have amassed a sizable collection of tote bags. It is a mandatory requirement according to the college. But the best one I have ever owned comes courtesy of Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson, best known as CMAT. The global teen pop sensation pulled out all the stops to create a bag that not only looks stunning but can hold even the contents of a big shop within. And if you think she comes out with a good tote bag, you should listen to her music. CMAT has written some of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in the last year, including Another Day (kfc), Rodney, I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby! and most recently I Don’t Really Care For You, which contains the line “Oh the Marian Keyes of it all!”, thereby making it an instant classic. She has also won the hearts of people from her appearances on The Den as well as the eponymous Irish music show Other Voices.
When I sat down to speak with her in early January, it was her third interview of the day. After a stellar 2020, she’s in high demand. Like everyone, she’s been very much online since the pandemic hit. Her Twitter presence contains the same wit and candour that you can find in her music, and she’s built a fanbase in part due to the internet. That being said, she does admit that once we’re out of lockdown, she’s thinking of going off the grid. “I don’t think it’s good for me. I don’t think it’s good for anyone to be as online as we are. Being online isn’t a substitute for real life. The internet and social media is a fantastic tool, but it can also completely and utterly warp your mind”.
Certainly, the internet does expect a level of performativity from its user, be that a positive or a negative performance. We’re chatting just after the riots on the Capitol, and our newsfeeds have been filled with articles on QAnon, internet communities, and trolls. Who you are on the internet is becoming less fictitious as the influence of what’s said online becomes ever more pertinent in the non-virtual world. “You can performatively be a terrible individual online and you’ll gain cultural and social capital for that even if that’s not who you are. You’ll get bigged up for all these stupid opinions you might have and you’ll get bigged up for being cantankerous online and then you’ll suffer in real life as a result of that, which is where it matters”. Asking CMAT about her process of writing songs, it’s really interesting to listen to her talk about collaborating and working with someone. In truth, CMAT has always wanted to be a songwriter, not just for herself but for others. “I want to be the best songwriter in the world and I don’t think you can do that by being self-serving all of the time and I don’t want to be self-serving. I wanna write the songs that I need to write for myself, but on the flipside I wanna go into a room with another artist and be able to help them achieve their goals and realise their vision, and I want to help them speak in their own voice. I want to be useful for not just myself. I want to contribute to the cultural wealth of the world in whatever way I can, and I think the way that I am best able to do that is through songwriting”.
Throughout our interview CMAT speaks with a level of confidence that is both impressive and inspiring. Such confidence didn’t arrive overnight though. In her first band, CMAT found herself afraid to speak out about what she felt was right for her songs. “I was in the studio when I was eighteen years old, and I was miserable. I was a terrible human being, but it came from a place of having no confidence. I would be in a room with men who were in their forties, or my bandmate who would have been twenty-six at the time, so I was always surrounded by older men. I was never confident enough in that band or in that space to say what I wanted on a recording, even though the only reason all of those men were in that room was because I wrote a song. The language that they used was just so foreign to me and I was just so insecure”.
“When I came out of the band and started writing for myself, that was when I realised that that was the problem the whole time – that I just wasn’t confident enough. So, I just had to be confident”. As the old adage goes, you gotta fake it ‘til you make it. “You just have to be like ‘No, I know exactly what I’m doing’, even if you don’t, even if you’re making a bloody fool of yourself you still have to stand up for yourself and you still have to stand up for your opinion. For me, it’s not an ego thing. I just really want to write; I just really want to help the song, and the only way you can help the song is by being confident in your abilities. Even if you’re wrong, you have to be confidently wrong, otherwise you’ll never get to the place of being confidently right”.
That being said, does the seemingly perfect memory of the internet make it challenging to even attempt being confidently wrong? We discuss the fear of having a ‘bad’ first album, and of failing to “be perfect and polished coming out the gate”. For CMAT, this isn’t her first rodeo, rather her second or third time starting a new project, “but people think it’s new. And this is the problem. It’s a real modern thing but people have to keep rebranding themselves”. But CMAT’s assurance in her own talent and voice is unshakeable to the point now where, rebrand or no rebrand, the opinions of others are not something that faze her. “Even though everyone’s entitled to their opinion, that voice in the back of my head is like ‘They’re wrong, this is a
banger’. I’m just really proud of my songs and I’m really proud of what I’ve done in the last year. So if somebody doesn’t like them I just don’t care!”.
CMAT is just as passionate about the visual side of her art. Her videos and outfits exude a level of kitsch without being pastiche. For her Christmas special, ‘CMAT’s Very Nice Christmas’, she performed in a variety of outfits including a cloudlike emerald-green tulle dress and a dazzling tinsel jacket. “Visually, I just try to be entertaining. And I think being glamorous is really entertaining. And I also think that being hyper-feminine and hyper-glamorous and very unapologetic about that, from an alternative music point of view, I think it’s actually kind of punk rock? Because there’s a really acceptable form of femininity that is present in alternative music and I feel like hyperfemininity is almost always ridiculed”.
“That’s not what I’m interested in and I wanna just double down on being a bimbo because I think it’s radical to do so”.
During the interview, CMAT is wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a portrait of country legend Patsy Cline. The importance of country music reaches far beyond her sartorial choices however, and it can be heard throughout her songs and the way in which she creates narrative within her work. “That ethos of country music, which is very laser-focussed storytelling and laser-focussed narrative is really important to me. Like I try to get as specific as I can in my songs because if you can get really specific you get really relatable and in that relatability a person can stretch it out into their own lives”.
“But at the root of it all is honesty. All of my songs that I’ve written for me thus far are about me at some level and they’re all about things that I’ve dealt with and fears that I’ve had, sadnesses that I’ve had. It comes from a very real and a very true place”.
Like every artist right now, CMAT has found herself in a position of not knowing exactly what the next year holds. “The plan is changing constantly. But I just wanna keep writing songs for me and other people, that’s all I really care about. There will be releases, I just have no idea what format they’re gonna come in. Not a clue. I don’t wanna release a single without a music video but it’s very hard to record a music video when no one can be around you”.
Whatever comes next, we can expect it to be delivered with the same intelligence and dedication to the work as a whole that we’ve seen from CMAT up until now. Her work is neither pastiche nor plastic. It is entirely, authentically her – that is, a global teen pop sensation.